Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Centring on savings sells digital short

You might have seen a paper published last week by UKAuthority reporting that 40% of councils say they're not making savings by using digital.

Whilst I agree with much of the sentiment of the paper I noticed that Steve Halliday, President of SocITM commented on Twitter that perhaps it was "council accountants fail(ing) to count savings achieved through digital" and I can see his point.

I very much doubt that there's a single council that isn't making some sort of saving through digital, it's just that this information hasn't been collated or reported. After all, every council has a website, so this must be be providing some saving, in that it's preventing a level of what used to be referred to as "avoidable contact", so why wasn't this reported?

I'm not advocating the introduction of performance indicators that tie council staff up in red tape rather then delivering services. I'm just saying that when a council says it's making zero savings from using digital, perhaps it needs to look at the way it's assessed this.

This article isn't about savings though, it's about the wider benefits of channel shift, four of which I've highlighted briefly below:

  1. Increased Capacity

    A larger percentage of end-to-end digital transactions and a better quality of online information (something the publication of the LocalGov Digital Content Standards should help improve) mean that frontline staff providing the initial contact can spend more time dealing with residents who still want to use traditional channels.

    It also means that back-office staff can allocate more time to getting the job done and (if using a decent Customer relationship management (CRM) system) reporting what they did back to the resident quickly and easily.

    Perhaps you're thinking you can't have increased savings and increased capacity, but as with almost everything a council provides or commissions, there's a balance between saving the resident money and making things better for them which applies here too.

    The increased capacity that digital can provide across all channels gives an opportunity for:

  2. Better Quality of Service

    Digital provides access to information and services when people want to use them. Whether it's reporting a broken streetlight at midnight or looking up library opening times on a Sunday afternoon it's there when people want to use it.

    What can be overlooked is that the increased capacity digital provides can create a better quality of service for those residents who don't want to, or are unable to use digital services.

    So digital can actually enable a better quality of service across all channels, which leads to:

  3. Greater Satisfaction

    It's natural that better informed residents, able to use services or find information when they want will be happier. So obviously, better digital services make people who like using digital happier.

    If staff are able to devote more time to traditional channels then it's more likely that those who still want to phone, email or face-to-face will also receive a better service making them happier too.

  4. Greater Transparency

    Whether it's publishing detailed accounts or showing residents when, where and how things get fixed, digital provides operational information in a form much more easily accessible to residents than previously available.

The need to find savings is a driver for an improved level of digital services in Local Government of course, but measuring just one benefit is a mistake.

Making a change in any organisation isn't just about technology, it's cultural too and in my view, centring purely on savings sells digital short.
This blog is written by Phil Rumens, Vice-Chair of LocalGov Digital, lead for LGMakers and who manages the digital services team at a local authority in England.

The opinions expressed in this weblog are my own personal views and in no way represent any organisation I may have worked for, currently work for, might be thinking of working for, might not be thinking of working for or have never worked for. In fact having said that they, might not even be my views any more as I might have changed my mind so I wouldn't take any of it too seriously.